Lauren Foster is accustomed to breaking barriers. In the 80s she was the first transgendered woman to model for VOGUE (Mexico). Now she is setting the stage for members of the LGBT community once more as the first transgendered woman on the Housewives series, with her turn as a supporting cast member on The Real Housewives of Miami. Lauren tells us about her really fascinating journey from modeling to reality TV!
TBB: Hello Lauren. You were born in South Africa. When did you move to the United States and do you still visit South Africa often?
LF: I left South Africa in 1978 and lived in Paris and London, but something about New York and America always appealed to me. I fell in love with New York immediately. I was at the right place at the right time and fell into an amazing scene, hanging out at places like Studio 54 and Paradise Garage. As much as I loved it, however, I found (the pace of) New York to be very fast. I left in the latter part of 1979 and spent a long time in LA with frequent trips home. I always had the safety net of a wonderful home and family to fall back on. I still visit South Africa. I have a condo in Cape Town and I go for the holidays every year. This year, however, I’m going to Sao Paulo for Christmas and Rio for New Year’s with five of my best friends. It will be the first time in years that I won’t be in Cape Town for New Year’s.
TBB: How did you end up settling in Miami?
LF: I was working for a plastic surgeon on Madison Avenue and spending the weekends on Fire Island. A friend and I just happened to be guests of the same house on the island and we were up late one night, chatting. We discussed his plans of opening an anti-aging clinic in the Four Seasons in Miami and he offered me a position there. He is a true visionary but it was one of those instances where you think ‘How flattering, but that will never happen’. A year later, however, The Institute was completed and I moved to Miami. That was nine years ago and I’m still with them.
TBB: Did you meet your husband (James Foster) in Miami?
LF: No, we met in LA years ago. We were friends at first and he forged a great relationship with my parents, especially my mother. When my mother passed away suddenly, I was devastated. My parents were always amazing, I was very lucky that they have been behind me in everything I’ve done. Foster (no one calls him James) always promised my mother that he would take care of me. He is a super sweet man. We married in 1996.
TBB: Your parents truly were supportive; they paid for your gender reassignment. What do you have to say to someone who is struggling with gender identity but lacks that support?
LF: You can find that support in your friends. No matter what advice anyone gives you, you must be true to yourself and follow your instincts. I’ve learned this since losing my parents. My brother, sister in law, niece and nephew are in Sydney. So my family now is my husband and close friends. I sometimes counsel people going through what I did and I tell them to find that “family” in friends and support groups. I’m using Real Housewives as a platform for the LGBT community. (Laughs) Sounds like a sandwich right?
TBB: You underwent gender reassignment in your youth. Doctors discovered you had Klinefelter’s syndrome (an XXY chromosomal pairing). Can you tell us how that diagnosis changed your life?
LF: It didn’t change my life but it was definitely an affirmation of who I was and how I felt. I never identified as male and my parents let me live in that little bubble. I have a picture of myself at two years old. I’m on the front lawn in a pinafore, looking at a toy truck and a plastic Barbie purse. I have an expression on my face, like I am thinking, “Which one am I going to choose?” I’m thinking of using it as the cover for my book.
TBB: You are writing a book! When will that be available?
LF: I have no idea (laughs)! I’m writing chapters, making notes. But with life, family, and constant traveling it gets complicated. As I remember an incident I’ll think “Oh that’s a good one”and I’ll put into the Notes app on my iPhone. Eventually I will have to put it all together, though I don’t think I’ll be able to write it myself.
TBB: I’m sure it will be a very intriguing read. You are the first transsexual woman to be featured in an editorial in VOGUE Mexico, yet VOGUE was unaware of you being transgendered at the time. A journalist uncovered your past and broke your story. How did the fashion world react when you came forward?
|Original 1984 Vog editorial photo.
LF: You have to understand that when that happened there was no social media. Originally I had told my story to a journalist in South Africa. In 1984 I was asked to do an editorial for Vog clothing. Someone saw the spread and called in saying “Do you know this model was once a man?” My agent told me to tell my story in my own words, but the journalist sold the story to Reuters, which is basically selling it to the world. There was a double page spread that read “VOGUE model was a Man!” However, unlike now when you tweet something, it doesn’t live forever. I worked in Greece, Paris, Mexico, all over the map, I would spend about 4 to 8 months in each city.
TBB: Do you think it is a kinder world for transgendered models today?
LF: I do think that women like myself and Teri Toye have paved the way for this new generation of TG models like Lea T. and Andrej Pejic. Andrej is amazing.
TBB: How did you start modeling?
LF: Leigh Downing gave me my first opportunity when I was about 18, right around the time of my surgery. I graduated high school early and studied drama for 6 months before I signed up with The Leigh Downing Agency in Durban. My first modeling gig was for factory machinery, I’m still laughing about it and still have the picture!
TBB: You, along with Renee Richards, are among the first people to give a voice to the transgendered community. You have spent some time counseling others going through or contemplating gender reassignment. How have you seen the strength of the community and acceptance evolve in recent years?
LF: I am so proud to be a part of that community now because of the work we have all invested in it.
Lauren is a beautiful, passionate and smart woman who has not only helped our organization, but our entire community,” says GLAAD President Herndon Graddick. “Bravo has long had its pulse on pop culture and we hope to see more of Lauren on their Real Housewives franchise. We think it would be a powerful decision for them to include her and represent all women, including those who are transgender.”
TBB: We are definitely seeing more role models for the transgendered community. Dancing With The Stars had Chaz Bono on the show and now you are the first transgendered woman on the Real Housewives franchise. How did the opportunity arise?
LF: I am very good friends with Marysol (Patton). I was invited to a luncheon for the launch of Lisa Pliner’s fab new shoe collection. Marysol called me up and said “I’d love for you to come with me”.We spend a lot of fun times out together. The producers of the show wanted me miked. They knew, I knew Elaine (Lancaster) and that Marysol was being badgered by him. It was my first time being miked and I forgot it was on. When I saw the episode I thought ‘I can’t believe I said that!’ But, you know, if anything, it was authentically me.
TBB: Speaking of Housewives, how are you getting along with James Davis, AKA Elaine Lancaster these days? I’ve heard rumors that you are good friends, but you clearly were not happy with him at Lisa Pliner’s event.
LF: I was friends with him. Right now, the temperature is a little high but things will even out. We have called a truce and I wish him the best of everything.
TBB: This second season of Real Housewives of Miami is almost finished. Will we see you on in future seasons or any other TV shows in the works?
LF: I think I’m in one more episode, at The Patton Group’s 10thanniversary party. I’m friends with all the girls. They are amazing. Three of them; Marysol, Ana (Quincoces) and Alexia (Echevarria) even flew to NY to be at a GLAAD event in support of me and the LGBT community. They are 3 very elegant, gracious women and I’m honored to call them friends.
TBB: Do you think there will soon be a transgendered Housewife?
LF: I don’t know about a Housewife, but a character, maybe!
TBB: Would you be a Housewife if asked?
LF: Who could say “no” to that? I would be flattered. I think the producers (Purveyors of Pop), Andy Cohen and the Bravo network have their finger on the pulse of the reality world. Just the small part I’ve had has been rewarding because it is shedding light on the community that I represent. I am humbled by the attention and hope that something good happens because of it.
TBB: You’ve only appeared in a couple of episodes yet you’re a big hit with the fans. How does that feel?
LF: It feels amazing. I’m overwhelmed!? It’s a whole new world with social media.
I lived under the radar for so long, then after my first divorce I said, “Fuck that!” Accept me as I am and if not, so what?
TBB: Thank you for talking with me today. Is there anything else you would like people to know?
LF: I will be working with GLAAD and Herndon Graddick (GLAAD’s president) on some exciting new initiatives for the LGBT community which will be announced soon. I am very thankful to Bravo, Andy Cohen, and Purveyors of Pop for giving me this platform and, of course, Marysol for reaching out to me.
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